¶ … diversity of learning styles and needs represented in a typical 21st century classroom. As the United States continues to see an increase in multi-ethnic, multinational populations, the children of immigrants that bring diverse cultures and ethnicities to American shores are represented in the classroom. This presents a serious challenge for the educator, since the diversity of students reflect a wide range of competencies, skills and levels of intellectual comprehension. Within the context of that diversity the instructor must embrace a pivotal 21st century learning challenge -- meeting the learning needs of students who may fall behind without one-on-one instruction and the learning needs of more advanced students seeking to surge ahead while many students in the classroom may be struggling simply to stay up with the assignments.
In order for students to reach their optimum level of academic achievement, the system must change and the philosophy of instruction must change in coordination with the input of assessments, technologies, and strategies. A newer, fresher, more contemporarily relevant set of learning approaches and ideas has been the driving force behind the Ashford University MAED learning outcomes. Ashford University has presented nine program learner outcomes (PLOs). Within those PLOs some of the lessons have been revamped to incorporate assessment strategies and technological tools, both of which are inspired by the Framework for 21st Century Learning. But reading and talking is easy: it is another matter entirely to take the best ideas and put them in motion so outcomes make the educational system better.
Application of Knowledge
Without new, interesting and progressive strategies that can be brought into a learning environment and fine-tuned for appropriateness, a 21st century instructor is actually heading back to old, tired approaches which won't spark interest -- nor accomplish goals -- with today's diverse population of students. You might say instructors short on energy when it comes to enlivening a sometimes dull classroom are on a path leading to boredom. However, instructors sincerely concerned with creating lessons that are understood, relevant, and accessible to all learners in the classroom, have a lot to gain through the application of knowledge gained through the PLOs.
The most important Program Learning Outcome -- which is judged to be PLO 1 -- should be ranked at the top of the totem pole of learning outcomes because inevitably there are inequities among learners and new approaches are needed in the education milieu. It revolves around instructional planning that assists the development of learning no matter how slow or up to speed the learner might be. In the presentation for student development a list of a dozen principles that need to be observed by instructors (and academic advisors) were listed. Students have identities when they arrive in college, and at time their learning incorporates a search for new identities. Their social relations go hand-in-hand with their psychosocial, cognitive-structural and academic learning experiences. A social identity that is developed during an educational experience is likely to be part of a student's life well beyond getting a degree. I fully understand that that social identity, when positive and well-honed, can help me go on to become an effective educator. The overall self-concept that I am developing is certainly linked to my success in the future as well as academics; however failing or just getting by for any student, which is really not an option for me because I fully expect to accomplish much in life, puts a person's positive self-concept on hold.
Meanwhile, relating to younger students and their learning development issues, PLO 1 emphasizes that that because children in poor neighborhoods tend to be short-changed when it comes to the quality of teaching and the quality of resources, creative strategies must be used by educators. And even though students struggling with those inequities are...
The challenge for teachers in environments like these is to diversify their approach; they should understand, as McLaren explains in Section 1.2, that failing to discuss issues of equality and social justice with students of color and others in marginalized communities actually turns schools into prisons (McLaren, 2005). Indeed in order to educate students sufficiently enough so they can become energetic, talented members of the workforce, the teacher must step away from corporate, capitalist, cliched concepts from the past and stop being a manager of pre-selected content. Rather, in order to inspire students to take learning seriously, and to promote student growth, the graduate from the MAED program should create learning opportunities -- which I am anxious to do -- that link students to fascinating, stimulating and worthwhile exercises that help them build on their academic success.
PLO 2 should be number two on the rating of PLOs, because it asks the instructor to personally get to know each student in the diverse classroom. PLO 2 entails the need for the instructor to know far more than just the materials to be taught, and the style in which they will be taught. PLO 2 strongly suggests that the instructor know each student as far as his or her abilities and learning styles. How to make the classroom not only relevant to learners of all motivations and skills represented in the classroom, but to fully engage learners to dig into assignments with the same degree of enthusiasm that I portray in my presentations. Because I love the classroom experience, and thrive on seeing faces shine with interest, I am eager to move every student forward using the framework that best fits with the variety of learning styles and abilities. Building collaborative relations with students (and in certain cases with their parents) means being skilled at embracing differentiated instructional approaches. Adjusting assignments in order that the lesson is relevant to a student from Eastern Europe with English as a second language -- as well as an alert Latino boy who was born in the U.S. And is fully bilingual -- is vital (Stallons, 2011).
Differentiated instruction means serving students from all walks of life by allowing students to learn at their own speed in their own comfort zone: to learn by reading rather than hearing; to learn by viewing media; to learn by taking a book to the library where it is quiet; or to learn in a group setting with other students whose learning styles are similar.
While it is also vitally important for classroom success to have assessment strategies in place and at the ready, the PLO 3 (assessments) gets in line right after PLO 5. In this report PLO 5 (learner-centered, not lesson-centered) has great value and should be ranked third in the list of nine Program Learning Outcomes. Why? In a classroom where differentiated instruction is being practiced, it seems highly appropriate to follow the state-supported standards and then refine those standards to meet the dynamics of your own classroom. The Common Core Standards have been carefully evaluated by prominent educators and a teacher is obliged to follow those by putting his or her own stamp on them. The standards offer a chance for the differentiated instruction, and by presenting fewer topics to students it means that students will be given the opportunity to fully grasp the meaning and the implications of the lesson. To wit, instead of expecting students to memorize (and rehearse their memorization until they become zombies as opposed to learners), the instructor uses common core standards that are learner-centered and up to the standards of the digital age.
After all, the Common Core State Standards offer guidelines in Language Arts, Mathematics, English and Social Science; and it behooves the creative instructor (I have always sought to be creative, flexible, and to show enthusiasm for assignments) to cooperate with state core standards in terms of whittling the course subjects into challenges that help students develop critical thinking skills. Having a thorough understanding of a subject is far more desirable than remember little pieces -- like patchwork -- of information, which is what happens when educators try to cram too much into the heads of students instead of using differentiated strategies with realistic goals for students to accomplish.
Moreover, using a pass-fail grading system allows the instructor to eschew the standard A-B-C format and give credit to students that show great effort if not consistent academic excellence. Giving a pass grade because a student that struggled will not be harmed psychologically by a D. is a way to improve classroom management (Looney, 2003).
Meanwhile PLO 3 should be next on the list of important PLOs from this writer's perspective. It is number four because it has enormous importance for students and instructors, and it is sometimes seen as a lost art because assessments are often overlooked by instructors. They may perceive that it adds another layer of responsibility…
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